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NIH Awards M. D. Anderson 84 Research Grants from Stimulus Funds

M. D. Anderson News Release 10/27/09

To view a list of grants by state or institution, start here: http://report.nih.gov/recovery/arragrants.cfm/

Researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center have been awarded 84 grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, including 10 earned under two highly competitive programs to rapidly advance cancer research over two years.

Often referred to as stimulus funds because the ARRA is designed to help restart national economic growth, the grants awarded through the National Institutes of Health total $53.8 million over two years.

"ARRA funds provide a great boost for cancer research during the difficult economic times that have followed a period of decreased research funding," said Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., M. D. Anderson executive vice president and provost. "Our faculty successfully built the innovative and collaborative proposals that were necessary to compete for these grants.

"Two specialized programs, the Grand Opportunity grants and Challenge grants, offer scientists new avenues to explore areas of great potential that could benefit from a two-year jump-start in funding," DuBois said.

M. D. Anderson scientists earned seven Grand Opportunity, or GO, grants and three Challenge grants. Some will fund molecular research to better understand the causes and vulnerabilities of different types of cancer. Others will focus on better ways to reach and help underserved communities, improving science and math education so more high school students pursue research or medical careers, and building models and infrastructure to better evaluate programs.

"The variety of these research projects demonstrates the breadth of M. D. Anderson's approach to understanding, preventing and treating cancer," DuBois said.

Year-in and year-out, M. D. Anderson leads all institutions in both the number of grants and total funding awarded by the National Cancer Institute. Of the 84 ARRA grants, 49 are from the NCI and the other 35 are spread among 13 institutes. Seven grants, for example, are from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, which reflects the role of inflammation and the immune system in cancer research.

Grand Opportunity Grants
"GO" grants are designed to support high-impact ideas that lend themselves to short-term funding and may lay the foundation for new fields of investigation.

Improving Community Health in Disaster-Prone Areas
A new research alliance will focus on strengthening community health among ethnic minorities and medically underserved people who live in areas prone to hurricanes, tornados and severe flooding. The Gulf Coast Transdisciplinary Research Recovery Center for Community Health is funded by a $4 million, two-year grant from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Principal investigator is Lovell Jones, Ph.D., professor in M. D. Anderson's Department of Health Disparities Research and director of the Center for Research on Minority Health in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences.

Genetic Alterations in Oral Cancer
The first comprehensive analysis of genetic variations involved in the development of oral cancer will be conducted under a $2.398 million grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Principal investigator Jeffrey Myers, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery, said the project will examine 100 oral cancer specimens for genetic sequence alterations in more than 6,000 genes and microRNAs to discover new targets for therapy and diagnostic testing for personalized medicine.

PET Imaging of Epigenetic Regulation in the Brain
A $3.3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse will fund a novel approach to imaging the activity of an important gene-regulating mechanism. Histone deacetylation is an epigenetic process, one that regulates gene activity without altering or damaging the gene. HDAC enzymes are important targets for new drug addiction therapies. Juri Gelovani, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Experimental Diagnostic Imaging, and colleagues have developed the first positron emission tomography approach to imaging epigenetic regulation via HDAC enzymes. This project will allow them to develop PET imaging agents for eventual clinical use.

Synthetic Estrogen and Prostate Cancer Development
Understanding the role of early exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen used in the manufacture of plastics, and later development of prostate cancer, is the focus of a $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies. Cheryl Walker, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Carcinogenesis, and colleagues will expose newborn rats to BPA and follow them into adulthood, correlating their later development of prostate cancer to BPA-induced epigenetic changes affecting the prostate. They also will analyze BPA's interaction with estrogen receptors. The project will provide new data for agencies that set regulatory guidelines for safe use of BPA.

Promoting Health Care and Research Equity
A $1.735 million grant from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities will establish the Bioethics Initiative for Equity in Health and Research at M. D. Anderson to address the underrepresentation of ethnic and racial minorities in clinical trials. The initiative will focus on developing a diverse research workforce that understands moral issues relevant to racial and ethnic minorities and how those issues affect recruitment into clinical trials. Principal investigator Janice Chilton, Dr.P.H., instructor in the Department of Health Disparities Research, and colleagues will provide bioethics training for researchers and develop non-traditional outreach methods to rebuild trust in the health care system.

Understanding Critical Immune System Regulators
T helper (Th) cells are critically involved, for good and ill, in autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, psoriasis and lupus. Th cells start out naïve and when activated differentiate into cell subsets with distinct gene expression and regulatory roles in the immune system. Principal investigator Chen Dong, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Immunology, will investigate epigenetic and transcriptional factors involved in Th cell lineage specification and cellular plasticity. Research is funded by a $2.759 million grant from the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

Cyberinfrastructure for Comparative Effectiveness Research
Comparative effectiveness research evaluates treatment regimens or procedures against each other to determine what works best for patients. Principal investigator Susan Peterson, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Behavioral Science, and a consortium of researchers will develop a cyberinformatics platform to manage the data required for large-scale comparative effectiveness research. Under a $3.86 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, the group will design and validate a prototype that supports acquisition, storage, quality assurance, visualization, analysis and the sharing of clinical, genetic, physiologic and behavioral data for cancer-related trials.

Challenge grants
Challenge grants are for novel research in topic areas that address specific scientific and health research challenges that would benefit from two-year jumpstart funding.

Assessing Cost-Effectiveness of Patient Navigation
Patient navigation is a community-centered approach designed to improve access to care at an earlier stage of disease for patients in underserved populations. This project, funded by a $722,753 grant from the National Cancer Institute, will develop a model to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of patient navigation at screening, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The group, led by co-principal investigators Ya-Chen Tina Shih, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics, and Lovell Jones, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Health Disparities Research, will assess patient navigation offered by insurance payers, health-care providers, and society as a whole.

Cultivating Future Scientists, Starting in High School
Amid growing concerns about future shortages of health-care providers and biomedical researchers, a potential long-term remedy is to engage high school students with enriched science, technology, engineering and math education. That's the premise of the MENTORS program funded by an $892,724 two-year grant from the National Center for Research Resources. The project focuses on rural, underserved and minority school districts where enriched science and career educational programs often are lacking. Led by principal investigator Robin Fuchs-Young, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Carcinogenesis, MENTORS will connect students with scientists in their labs and collaborate with teachers to increase awareness of research and technology careers.

Targeting Tumor's Supporting Actors
For tumors to grow rapidly, they recruit a variety of non-cancerous cells to provide structural, vascular and cell-signaling support in the tumor's microenvironment. Frank Marini, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy, has a $1 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study the origin and composition of these supportive, or stromal, elements and identify potential targets for therapy. The project builds on earlier research implicating stem cells produced in the bone marrow and fat tissue in the formation of stromal tissue. These mesenchymal stem cells recruited to the tumor microenvironment are capable of differentiating into connective tissue such as bone, cartilage and muscle as well as into blood vessels. 10/27/09


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